UP and Montpellier University launch collaborative PhD platform to establish global community of sustainability scientists

Posted on June 08, 2023

In support of efforts to feed, care and protect people and the planet, the University of Pretoria (UP) has joined forces with France’s University of Montpellier (UM) to lead the establishment of the Feed, Protect, Care Global Collaborative PhD Platform. The platform, which was launched at UP’s Future Africa Institute as part of Africa Week celebrations, will be implemented in partnership with more than 15 other higher education institutions.

Science plays a crucial role in addressing the pressing global sustainability challenges outlined in frameworks such as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The vision of the platform is to establish a global community of future sustainability science leaders by creating opportunities to internationalise doctoral education and cultivating lifelong networks of expertise and influence. At least 30 PhD students from 15-member institutions from 12 countries on five continents will form the first cohort.

“This has been an extraordinary process, illustrating the potential and appetite for truly multilateral engagement in building a future generation of globally connected sustainability scientists,” said Dr Heide Hackmann, Director of the Future Africa Institute. “The platform gives expression to the principles and practices of open science and open education, and its flexible participation model suggests that its scope, reach and impact will grow rapidly.”

During Phase I (2023/24 to 2025/26) of this ambitious initiative, the platform’s thematic focus will be on the complex and urgent challenges of building sustainable food systems on local and global scales. The platform will be open to additional universities with a wider thematic focus during Phases II and III.

The goal is to prepare a young generation of researchers and scientists who can work together across disciplines to identify pathways to transform food systems towards sustainable development. Students will have the opportunity to attend in-person events where they will receive training and networking opportunities on cross-cutting issues at the science-policy-society interface. Virtual events and ongoing exchanges via a dedicated virtual research environment will also form part of the project. Once students graduate, they will become members of the Feed, Protect, Care Alumni Network.

“I see this platform as facilitating an opportunity to imbed international collaboration in the next generation of PhD students, in terms of the transferrable skills in the policy domain, science communication, networking and mentoring,” said Prof Frans Swanepoel, Director for International Strategic Partnerships at UP.

The platform aims to expand the impact of sustainability science by advocating and supporting inter- and transdisciplinary research approaches at doctoral level, while simultaneously developing expertise at the science-policy-society interface. Furthermore, the initiative aims to facilitate extended research opportunities and promote career growth for early-career scientists. Lastly, the advancement of open-science and open-education practices is pursued through the establishment of equitable global partnerships, contributing to a more inclusive and collaborative approach to knowledge sharing.

The first meeting of the Steering Committee provided the opportunity to launch this long-term, transformative initiative. Representatives from all participating partner institutions are members of the committee. Dr Hackmann and Professor Patrick Caron of the University of Montpellier serve as co-chairs of the initiative.

“This initiative emanates from the decision we made to take advantage of our long-standing UM-UP partnership to build global multilateral cooperation on the concept of ‘feed, care, protect’, which is the intersection between agriculture, food, environment and health sectors contributing to sustainable development challenges,” Prof Caron said.

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